OMAHA, Neb. — After being overshadowed all season by the best pitcher in college baseball, Ty Floyd basked in the spotlight Saturday night.
He earned it.
Floyd struck out a career-high 17 for the most in a College World Series game in 51 years and Cade Beloso hit the tiebreaking homer in the top of the 11th inning to lift LSU over Florida 4-3 in Game 1 of the WCWS finals.
“We aren’t sitting here without Ty Floyd,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “He’s one of the most underappreciated players in college baseball this year.”
The Tigers (53-16) can wrap up their seventh national championship, and first since 2009, with another win over the Gators (53-16) on Sunday.
Floyd began the season in the bullpen before moving into the No. 2 starter’s role behind Paul Skenes, the first college pitcher in 12 years with more than 200 strikeouts and likely to be taken first or second in next month’s amateur draft.
“With Paul being so out-of-this-world good, nobody’s really paid attention to him, but the pro people are,” Johnson said of Floyd. “He’s not going to last very long on the draft board. Somebody will be very, very happy with Ty Floyd. I think he’ll pitch for a very long time.”
The junior right-hander was at his best in the eighth when he struck out the top of the Florida order. That includes Wyatt Langford, a projected top-five overall draft pick, and national home run co-leader Jac Caglianone.
Floyd started walking to the dugout after finishing off Caglianone, then went back and picked up the ball as a keepsake.
LSU closer Riley Cooper (5-3) took over in the ninth inning after Floyd struck out the most batters in a MCWS game since Arizona State’s Ed Bane fanned 17 in a 1-0 win over Oklahoma in 1972.
“With as many people as were here tonight, the adrenaline felt good,” Floyd said. “I knew that throwing my fastball at the top of the zone, being able to mix in off-speed pitches enough to get them off was the biggest thing tonight.”
Beloso’s blast came after LSU left fielder Josh Pearson made a leaping catch to keep Florida from scoring the winning run in the 10th. Beloso’s three-run homer in a 5-2 win over Wake Forest on Wednesday kept the Tigers’ season alive, and he came up against Florida closer Brandon Neely (3-2) to lead off the 11th.
Beloso sent Neely’s second pitch over the right-field fence, raised his left index finger to the sky as he rounded third and stuck out his tongue as he crossed home plate. Then he beat his chest, pulled on the front of his jersey a couple times and chest-bumped Floyd on his way into the dugout.
“The previous at-bat, he struck me out on three straight heaters and I figured he would go back to it,” Beloso said. “They weren’t going to switch anything up. I got one I was supposed to swing at and put a good swing on it.”
Cooper worked out of trouble in the ninth and 10th before pitching a 1-2-3 11th that ended with him striking out BT Riopelle and Deric Fabian, setting off a celebration among the throng of LSU fans that included Cincinnati Bengals quarterback and 2019 LSU national champion Joe Burrow.
It looked as though Langford had the winning hit for Florida in the 10th when he sent a high liner to left, but Pearson ran back and made a leaping catch. That brought up national home run co-leader Jac Caglianone, who popped out to end the inning.
“We played 11 innings and lost on a pitch on a 1-0 count,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We didn’t play our best baseball, but the message tomorrow is we’ve got nothing to lose at this point. We’re in the College World Series, and we’re playing in the finals. We can’t let this leak into tomorrow.”
Riopelle hit his 18th homer of the year — and eighth in 14 games — to put the Gators up 3-2 in the sixth.
Tommy White, who sent the Tigers to the finals with his 11th-inning walk-off homer against Wake Forest on Thursday, tied it in the eighth when he hammered Cade Fisher’s 0-2 slider into the left-field seats for his 24th HR of the season.
The game was a MCWS record-tying eighth decided by one run.
LSU managed to prevail despite striking out 16 times and leaving 17 runners on base against Brandon Sproat, Fisher and Neely.
“Baseball is a tough game, and when runners get on, that’s when pitchers make their best pitches,” Beloso said. “In terms of not getting the job done, no one was freaking out about it. We just keep playing and know eventually we’ll come through.”